Last Thursday the House of Representatives, along largely partisan lines, approved (233-198) George W. Bush's much-vaunted proposal to give federal money to religious groups that operate community-based social programs. Despite the fact that it is unlikely the Senate will approve comparable legislation, religious groups all over the country are elated.
I'm glum, and let me tell you why.
At the outset, let's acknowledge George W. Bush's good intentions. In fact, this is a prime case of good intentions translating into bad consequences. Bush is a professed Christian, and there is every reason to believe his faith is sincere (unlike that of his predecessor). Bush's life demonstrably changed after his acceptance of Jesus Christ, and he boldly declares his allegiance to the Lord even when such declarations are not politically advantageous (remember in the campaign when he asserted that Jesus Christ was the political philosopher who most influenced his own views? That was an off-the-cuff remark, one almost impossible to engineer for sound-bite benefit). As a Christian, Bush recognizes the vital role that churches and other religious organizations should play in the community, including the role of furnishing charity and other social service to the needy. The problem is not his view that religious groups should provide community charity and other services. The problem is that he wants to get the Feds involved. Bush may be born again, but God never promised that everybody born again would be purged of bad ideas.
And "faith-based" statism is a very bad idea.
Why? Because state control always accompanies state money. This is quite obvious in the present legislation. The Left cried bloody murder when it discovered that Bush's proposed legislation exempted groups like the Salvation Army from local and state laws forbidding discrimination in hiring. The Salvation Army (rightly) excludes homosexuals from its payroll because it (rightly) considers homosexuality a grievous sin whose practitioners should not be employees in a Christian organization. The Salvation Army, on this point at least, enjoys clear Biblical warrant for its hiring policy. It should be free to maintain this policy (just as homosexual organizations should be free to maintain a policy prohibiting the hiring of Christians) without state interference. But the fact is, anytime it wants the state can alter the criteria by which it doles out the hard-earned cash it extorted from hard-working citizens, and recipients that once were the darlings of the state do-gooders can quickly fall into disfavor with the frequent change of political and social winds.
It is only fair to mention that the Salvation Army was not in a very principled position to ask for exemption from such tyrannical laws. For years it has been on the dole. Now it wants exemption from laws laid down by the same people that dole out the "free" funds. The Army would never have gotten into this pickle had it never taken the state's dough. If you dance with Devil, the romance is hard to break.
The Left doesn't want religious organizations using federal funds if those groups are not in line with federal (or local or state) social policy (in other words, the politically correct creed of the moment). This is one time that you'll find me siding with the liberals, though we oppose this legislation for different reasons. They oppose it on the grounds of separation of church and state; I oppose it on the grounds of separation of charity and state. They don't want the Feds supporting a religion they disfavor (they only want the Feds supporting the religion they do favor secular humanism). I don't want the Feds corrupting the religious groups that receive their money.
State money corrupts every religious organization that accepts it; and if you get state money, you shouldn't whimper when you suffer state control. Christian universities are a leading example. If they accept federal funds, and soon become dependent on those funds, they are at the mercy of the Feds and their gory social engineering. If no school is deemed worthy of funds unless it teaches Darwinism as truth, unless it refuses to discriminate against homosexuals in hiring policy, and unless it lives up to politically correct environmentalist standards, federally funded Christian schools are presented with a clear choice: quit taking the Feds' money, or compromise the Faith. Most opt for the latter. Some like Grove City College and Bob Jones University do not. About 20 years ago the Feds revoked BJUs tax exemption because the school prohibited interracial dating. The school told the Feds to take a hike (though it later relaxed its dating policy). Today, BJU is the only university in the country subject to taxation. It values its principles more than it values the Feds' funds. Any religious organization that values its principles will reject the offer of state money, even well intentioned state money, as this money certainly is.
The Modesto Bee (July 20, 2001) reports: "Religious groups can do a better job than government agencies in meeting the needs of the poor, said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill."
I quite agree. What I don't understand is why the esteemed Speaker would then feel obliged to get one the biggest government agencies of all, the Congress, to feed tax money to these religious groups. Let citizens keep the tax money and give it voluntarily to religious groups who in turn can use that money to help the poor and others in the community.
We need to get the state out of the charity business, out of the education business, out of the intelligence business, out of the medical business, out of the environmental business, out of the postal business, out of the chemical-control business frankly, out of about every business there is. The state corrupts virtually all that it touches.